Any car enthusiast understands how difficult it is to exercise self-restraint when it comes to modifying your own car. This is particularly applicable to those who own a mod-friendly vehicle, such as the Mazda Miata.
After all, the Mazda Miata is the world’s best-selling sports car. It makes sense that it would then go on to garner one of the most ardent fans and develop one of the world’s largest performance aftermarket industry.
It’s special because it’s not a car for just enthusiasts. The Miata appealed to everyone alike because of its ease of entry in low running costs and approachable driving demeanor.
Mazda’s decision to use existing components and adapting them into an RWD platform for the Miata proved to be a winning formula. By practicing the classic roadster formula – reduce weight and add simplicity, the original Miata is perfectly adapted for the masses.
Obviously, the Miata’s alacrity and handling aptitude. Most are satisfied with how their Miata behaves from the factory. However, for some, the Miata lacks the power typically associated with sports cars.
If you’re one of those few, then you’d be glad to know that the Miata touts massive performance parts aftermarket. In fact, over the years, we’ve seen Miatas modified into just about anything you can imagine.
That said, the majority of Miata owners are just keen on extracting a bit more gusto out of the stock engine. The good thing is that the engine is relatively friendly towards modifications, and without swapping engines you can definitely improve the output.
The options you have largely depend on what generation of Miata you’re driving. There are four generations to the Miata, and while the NA and NB are similar, the latter NC and ND variants are a completely different departure. If you’re looking for the best Miata for modding, then the earlier two generations are generally recommended.
These are also the Miatas with well-developed performance parts available. You’ll be struggling to choose between the performance parts offered by various manufacturers in the NA and NB industry. Therefore, this article will focus more on the first and second-generation Miatas.
Performance Mods for Miatas
Generally speaking, Miata enthusiasts find that the stock Miatas already have enough poke for most common folks. This is especially true for the NA and NB Miatas. Due to the lack of weight and age of the car, most people recommend that you start by improving traction and braking on these Miatas.
Wheels & Tires
Obviously, this means that you should start by replacing the tires on your Miata with some high-grip tires and if necessary, lighter wheels. You will observe drastic improvements just by changing out your tires. In fact, you should go out and verify that your current tires aren’t expired or badly worn through already.
NA and NB Miatas
Some gains can be had here by switching to a lightweight alloy wheel if your Miata is still sitting on stock wheels. If you’re running on stock 16″ wheels those are agreed to be burdensome for the Miata. By switching over to 15″ aftermarket lightweight alloys you reduce the unsprung rotational mass and also reduce ride harshness. People have reported a much more responsive car just by downsizing the wheels.
If your Miata already comes with 15″ or even 14″ alloys, then the gain isn’t quite so perceptible. You’ll want to look for 4×100 bolt pattern wheels at 7″ width for a good middle ground. Popular options are Enkei RPF1s which are below 10 lbs for 15×7 size. The other popular option is the Advanti Racing Storm S1 which is also very lightweight and popular amongst the Miata community.
Finally, if you have the budget to spend, then there’s always the default answer for sporty Japanese cars – Volk Racing TE37s. Those wheels are immensely popular and you can find plenty of Miatas fitted with them online. You can always find those wheels used too, just make sure that you’re buying quality wheels to avert any possible construction issues.
NC and ND Miatas
Both of the latter generation Miatas came with 16″ or 17″ alloys depending on the trim level. 15″ wheels won’t fit into these Miatas without extensive modifications. But if you’re daily driving your Miata, then downsizing to 16″ wheels is favorable since it improves the drivability of your Miata. It’s perfect for people who want a grand-tourer that still handles well.
And there are that smaller wheels and tire sizes are generally more affordable. Given that you don’t have that much power to overcome the traction available, going to 17″ doesn’t yield as much benefit as you might imagine. However, there’s no doubt that 17″ wheels do look excellent on the newer Miatas
If you plan to drastically modify your NC/ND Miata’s powertrain intending to extract double the power out of the car though, then going to 17″ wheels may prove to be prudent.
It’s also worth noting that it’s not worth it for NC owners to go stock wheels on other Miatas, such as newer ND wheels or BBS wheels. This is because the NC Miatas have a completely different bolt pattern to other Miatas, 5 x 114mm. All other Miatas use a 4 x 100mm pattern.
For most normal folks who want more grip, it makes sense to go for a set of quality high-performance summer tires. Ideally, ones that are durable enough to be driven on daily, while providing sufficient wet grip and good dry grip for when you’re feeling ambitious.
What type of tires are available to you is also largely dependent on your wheel size. You’ll find it much easier to find tires that fit 15×7 wheels compared to 15×9 wheels. And for most people running street tires, 15×7 is plenty sufficient.
Before you go out and buy a set of tires though, you should take note of the Uniform Tire Quality Grading (UTQG) index. It’s a metric system that quickly helps consumers to determine the treadwear, traction, and temperature of tires quickly. The rating is compared against the government-mandated standard. For example, a tire rated at 400 would last 4 times longer than the control. Traction and temperature ratings go from A to C, good to poor.
The goal for all-purpose tires is that they must provide reliable traction in all conditions, last for a good while, and not produce excessive road noise. The good thing is that if you look for summer high-performance tires from reputable brands, they should meet or exceed those requirements.
A popular choice for many people, and in many OEM applications are the Michelin Pilot Sport 4, or the 4S. As expected, they excel in multiple categories. The Pilot Sports offer great wet and dry grip while being well-behaved on roads. However, they are very expensive indeed. A great alternative is the Continental ExtremeContact Sport.
If you are looking for affordability, then you’ll have to look at offerings from other brands. A good example would be the Kumho Ecsta PS31, a highly popular choice for budget options. The Hankook Ventus V2 Concept2 is also a good choice. They still provide decent grip, albeit you might find them inadequate for wet-spirited driving.
If you want maximum enjoyment from your track day, then you should have a set of wheels and tires just for the occasion. You can go as wide as 15x9s with 225s without necessitating suspension modifications or fender rolling.
Keep in mind that with track tires, the main emphasis is on dry grip above all else. This means that track-only tires use an ultra-soft compound that wears quickly and usually suffers badly from hydroplaning. So you should avoid using these for street duty. These tires utilize race compounds that need heat to start gripping.
The popular choices amongst Miata enthusiasts are the Toyo Proxes R1R and BF Goodrich Rival S. Those are both well-regarded autocross tires that offer substantial dry grip. These aren’t pure R-compound with 200 treadwear, so they can last for a few track events before needing to be replaced. You can’t go wrong with Yokohama Advan Neova AD08 Rs which is a massively popular choice for 205 sizes.
The tires mentioned above are technically street-able too. But what if you need something that’ll truly give you an edge? Then you should look for full R-compounds such as the Toyo R888Rs. Beyond the R888Rs, you’ll be looking at full slicks that won’t last more than a day of hard driving. Therefore, the R888Rs should prove plenty adequate for a typical track day.
Suspension & Brakes
Everyone knows that the Miata’s handling prowess is praiseworthy. However, the fact of the matter for NA and NB Miata owners is the fact that they are working with 20 to 30 years old suspension and brake components and design. It’s always a good idea to give your Miata a thorough underbody inspection before you proceed.
Suspension and brake modifications are expensive. That’s why before you attempt those modifications, you should ask yourself if you’re really yearning for better braking and cornering performance. If all you want is a more positive feeling vehicle that reaffirms you when you bash it around bends, then all that might be necessary is a simple alignment job.
This should be carried out when you’re replacing your wheels and tires. A simple alignment can also identify whether if there are any structural issues with your Miata. Most people aren’t first owners of their NA or NB Miatas after all, and considering the type of buyers a Miata appeals to, it’s entirely possible for one to have ended up in a ditch sometime in its life.
There are countless specifications that are tried and tested by multiple professional Miata platform racers. You can take their specifications as a baseline for your own Miata. Over time you will develop a better understanding of each alignment element.
Once you know what each adjustment does and change how your car behaves, you can cater the wheel alignment to complement your own driving style.
It’s also important to perform alignments regularly, especially after replacing the tires. Poorly aligned wheels can accelerate tire wear and quickly ruin a brand new set of $400 tires you just bought for your Miata.
Be sure to check that your Miata has properly functioning brakes. Some of the earlier Miatas had optional ABS too, in which case you should check whether if it remains functional. Early ABS can be a bit primitive and tricky to work with on the track, but it can save your life when you’re driving normally on the road.
The general consensus is that the Miata has enough stopping power for track days. Unless you’ve vastly improved the engine output of course. Also, changing out the tires for better ones should also reduce your braking distance and allow you to brake harder without locking up your brakes.
OEM Miata brake pads are regarded as the best compromise between dust-emission, brake performance, and fade resistance for all-purpose use. However, if you find yourself facing issues with overheating, then upgrading to performance street pads should mitigate that.
The recommended aftermarket pads from Miata owners are similar. StopTech Street Performance, EBC Yellow Stuff, Hawk HP+, and Axxis ULT. These are applicable across most Miatas.
It’s worth noting that if you have an ND Miata, then the factory offers a very appealing upgrade option – the BBS Brembo package. Worth giving this a thought if you intend to track your ND Miata regularly.
However, before you go out and splurge on a set of new brake pads, all you might need to resolve your brake fade and poor brake feel is a brake fluid flush. If you’re replacing your brake pads, it’s definitely worth the effort to replace your brake fluid.
You can stick with OEM Mazda brake fluids. If you’re facing brake fade issues, then going for DOT 4 brake fluid is well worth it. Go for a high-performance DOT 4 brake fluid from well-known fluid manufacturers such as the Motul RBFs, ATE Super Blue, AMSOIL Dominator DOT 4s, and Castrol LMA.
It’s all categorized under DOT 4 brake fluids, but most high-performance DOT 4 brake fluids have performance exceeding DOT 4. Some might even label their brake fluids as DOT 4+. There are also DOT 5.1 brake fluids that are solely reserved for the highest performance applications, mostly OEM for supercars.
Should you find that your brake disc is worn out, then you can always replace it with an OEM equivalent. If you like the looks of drilled or slotted rotors, then there’s nothing wrong with these as an upgrade option. They do offer a genuine performance difference but can accelerate pad wear.
Finally, there’s also the option to replace your stock rubber brake hoses with stainless steel braided (SS) brake hoses. The notion behind SS hoses is that they expand less when braking force is applied, thus improving the brake feel. Although the effects might be hardly perceptible.
That said, SS brake hoses undoubtedly offer superior resilience to the elements. If you have old worn-out brake hoses it’s not a bad idea to upgrade to SS offerings for peace of mind. It’s also useful for track racing where high-speed road debris tossed around from other cars can potentially damage rubber brake hoses.
It’s a massive subject, there are tons of tested, proven suspension setups for the Miata. There are dozens of professional racing teams that test and develop new suspension products on their own Miata, and it becomes tricky to recommend a good setup without understanding specific needs.
However, most people who want to upgrade their suspension are generally looking for a better-behaved ride so they can track their Miata and clock faster lap times than before. From the factory, the Miata is already a fairly well-balanced ride. For those that don’t mind forsaking a bit of daily drivability, the stiffer ride translates to more confidence on the track.
Before squandering on a whole new set of coilovers for your Miata, perform a thorough underbody inspection. Your odd feeling Miata might just be a result of worn bushings. Obviously, it comes with age, so NA, NB, and NC Miata owners should pay special attention to tired suspension parts.
Common wear and tear suspension components include shock mounts, sway bar links, control arm bushings, and tie rod ends. Grab a torchlight and preferably a pry bar and stress different suspension components to check for cracked bushings. Replace these with OEM equivalents if possible. There are also subframe bushings that can wear out, but those tend to last a vehicle’s lifetime.
However, if you want to extract better responsiveness from your Miata, you can head for the direction of polyurethane (PU) bushings. Energy Suspension manufactures a set for every generation of Miata.
You’ll definitely notice an amplified NVH after substituting OEM bushings for PU alternatives. Be prepared for a noisier and rougher ride. However, owners have reported improved responsiveness from their Miata with PU bushings especially on turn-in, and PU bushings are laudably durable due to the hardness. It’s ill-advised for daily drivers though.
If you find body roll to be a big issue with your Miata, there’s also the option to upgrade to a stiffer sway bar. Multiple companies manufacture one for the Miata, with notable products from Whiteline, Flyin’ Miata, Cusco, and Eibach. There are also reinforced sway bar links that offer additional adjustability and stiffness. These help to maintain contact patch while cornering.
Of course, there is an eclectic range of coilovers setup available for all Miata generations. Your goals should align with your budget. If all you want is a lower ride and adjustability, then Racelands offer a budget-friendly kit that isn’t as horrible as many would put it. Otherwise, look for used Tein/Koni/Bilstein coilovers at your local Miata group. Don’t care for adjustability? Then something like the Eibach Pro Kit lowering springs might suit your need.
Have a loftier budget? Then you’ll find the popular and well-tested setups. Flyin’ Miata recommends a range from V-Maxx, Koni to Fox Suspension. Most Miata owners typically praise Tein Flex Zs, MeisterR CRD, and Tokico Illuminas. If you have the money to spend, Fat Cat Motorsports and Ohlins are well-regarded. On the highest end for Miatas, the SuperMiata Xida collaboration is about as good a set of coilovers can get.
Those options are generally applicable across all ranges of Miata. Worth noting that if you have an NA Miata and plan to lower your car, look into converting the shock mounts to NB mounts. The NB mounts allow for more spring travel before hitting the bump stop, which is critical for lowered Miatas. And it’s an affordable and commonplace upgrade.
Finally, once you’ve figured out how to drive your Miata better and make use of the handling mods you’ve made, it’s a good opportunity to improve the power output for better track times. Otherwise, for those who want a cruiser Miata with more grunt, it’s possible to extract more power without going overboard.
Mild Power Mods
For NA/NB Miata owners, without going overboard, the most power you’re going to get is from intake and exhaust modifications. This has already been said dozens of times.
The general consensus for the best intake piping setup is a Randall intake. It basically reroutes your intake path to the windshield cowl, and you have to drill a hole in the firewall for a proper cowl intake setup. The theory behind it is that it takes advantage of the greater pressure differential between the intake and cowl when the car is moving to improve intake efficiency. It definitely mitigates the effect of heat soak though.
If you don’t want to drill a hole in your firewall, there are also air intake kits that reroute the intake piping to the headlamp which also reduces heat soak from the exhaust. This is offered by Racing Beat and various other manufacturers.
On the exhaust side, opinions are very split. There are a lot of good options out there. For headers, it’s generally agreed that Racing Beat makes great aftermarket options. How loud and droney your Miata becomes is dependent on the muffler and resonator setup, and there are a lot of catback systems to choose from with plenty of samples.
Worth noting that newer Miatas do have an advantage over the NA/NB generations. The ECUs in the later NC and ND Miatas can be remapped. Various companies offer a remapping solution for them. Even on its own, remapping can improve engine and throttle response. When you pair it with basic power mods though you can expect to extract 10-20% more power overall.
However, if you’re truly seeking to extract a lot of power out of your Miata mill, then the only realistic way for most people is via forced induction. Thankfully, a lot of studies have been put behind those engines, and people know how to make them work with supercharged, turbocharged, and even nitrous applications.
Forced induction Miatas is a big topic on its own. You should peruse the Miata forums for more information, and there’s even a Miata Turbo forum page just for this discussion. If you’re interested, Flyin’ Miata provides turbo kits for the NA, NB, and ND Miatas. BBR GTi is a big name in the Miata world, and they can sort you out with a turbo system depending on your goals.
Top 5 Performance Upgrades for the Miata
- Tires are a crucial performance upgrade for the Miata, and selecting a suitable tire requires research and input from Miata experts to match local road and weather conditions. High-performance tires offer excellent handling potential, but they wear out more quickly and produce more noise, resulting in a harsher ride.
- A less restrictive air intake system can improve power and throttle response on the Miata, and aftermarket intake systems can remove restrictive factory components to allow for more airflow. Installation of an aftermarket intake system may increase the sound level of the engine, which may take some driver adjustment.
- Upgrading the sway bar set is an easy and cost-effective way to improve the handling of the Miata without increasing ride harshness. A sway bar set helps to reduce body roll, allowing for increased traction and improved weight transfer. Replacing the stock sway bar end links with a performance-based set also provides more immediate steering feedback to the driver.
- An aftermarket exhaust header upgrade on the Miata can offer a noticeable power gain, and racing beat has undertaken extensive testing to maximize the power output of their header. Installation of an aftermarket header requires access to the engine compartment and the underside of the vehicle and can be completed in 2-4 hours.
- Installing an aluminum flywheel on the Miata can provide improved revving capabilities of the engine, improving gear selection and shifting speed. Performance flywheels are lighter than the stock components and require a bit more refinement of engagement technique to prevent stalling.